Throughout my writing career, I’ve devoured countless blog posts, podcasts, and interviews by authors talking about the advice they received when starting out. Learning from mentors helps us to improve and evolve in our chosen field, and I still recall the advice given to me at the start of my writing journey.
In 2019, to honour my mentors and help the next generation of writers’ young and old, I started a feature whereby established authors shared their words of wisdom and top ten writing tips.
It was a huge success and I’m delighted to bring the feature back for a second season!
Meet Mairi Chong
Mairi used to be a doctor but in a dramatic career change, now writes crime fiction with a very unhealthy dose of medicine! Her debut, Death by Appointment is due for re-launch by Bloodhound Books in January 2022.
Death by Appointment is the first in the Dr Cathy Moreland Mystery series, in which Cathy, an overworked general practitioner recuperating from a severe mental breakdown, travels to a remote Scottish coastal village hoping to find peace. While there, she is told of a tragedy from thirty years ago when a local woman jumped from the rocky headland clutching her newborn baby. Hearing this, Cathy is obviously upset but when another tragedy occurs at exactly the same spot, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. A deadly malice creeps the winding lanes that surround the hamlet. Its stealthy footfalls are tender and reassuring but its true intent is as cruel as the sea itself …
The book is a heartfelt murder mystery and Mairi hopes the solution will challenge even to most ardent murder mystery fans. When she’s not plotting murders, she enjoys reading her ever-expanding British classic crime collection and riding her three horses.
Mairi’s top 10 writing tips:
- Write like no one is ever going to read it! I’m a perfectionist by nature and very driven. I used to feel like a failure if I hadn’t written something amazing by the end of a day. Blocking self-criticism and permitting yourself to write anything (even if, at the time, it feels rubbish) is very freeing. Some of my best sections of work are written in this way. It’s very liberating.
- Try different things. Although I am writing a series, I find myself shaking it up a bit and trying different approaches all the time. It’s a challenge but it keeps things fresh. I’ll write from two or three narrative viewpoints in one book and then only one in the next. I’ll have a whodunnit in one book and a howdunnit in another.
- Listen in to other people’s conversations! Some of my best ideas come from eavesdropping! Even slightly odd turns of phrase can be very interesting and might spark an idea. I don’t go around with a notebook or anything crazy, but I do take mental note of things. I took this to great lengths at one point last year when I signed up to help in our local charity shop two mornings a week because I had writer’s block! Within a very short space of time, I had a book idea and some wonderful snippets of banal gossip and intrigue just from sorting clothes in the backroom!
- Don’t edit straight away. It’s a big temptation to edit the first draft while it’s being written and also straight afterwards. I suggest not doing this. Move onto something different. Forget the damn thing and then, in a month, go back to it with fresh eyes. Usually, during a first draft, you are far too close to see anything anyway so better give it space.
- Don’t feel you have to be a joiner! Everyone bangs on about joining book clubs and author circles because they say being a writer is terribly lonely. This may be true but if you are an introvert like me, being alone is something that tops up your energy and fills you with joy. After a book festival or a talk, I know I’ll have to go into isolation for a good three days to recover from the stress of speaking to lots of people! Do what suits you.
- Be nice. I have received help and advice from a couple of far greater, more established authors than myself and I will forever be grateful for their humility. As you become more prominent, help others up. This genuinely won’t detract from your own career and you might change someone’s life in the process.
- Don’t write every day but when you are really writing, do! I will give myself breaks of a few months between books. I use the time to top up on ideas and to read. But when I am in writing mode, I’m very strict on writing every day. I set a target of 14 000 a week and I stick to it. Within 8 weeks, I have a first draft. It works well for me. If I get sloppy and take days off, I’ll find that I then have to reread what I wrote before and it all falls apart.
- Read/Listen as much as you can in your chosen genre. I read and listen to audiobooks a lot when I’m not writing. I’m quite picky about what I read through and although sometimes it can be fun to read easy things, I know if I want to improve my own writing, the best way to do it is to read very well-written books. As a crime writer, I go back to the Golden Age of crime constantly. There’s always something new to learn.
- When you edit, read your book aloud – particularly the dialogue. If you trip up reading a sentence, it usually needs re-writing.
- Don’t give up! I suspect most people will put this somewhere in their top 10 writing tips. It’s easy to become dispirited after rejections but remember why you began writing and what it gives you personally. I have bipolar disorder and if I’m not writing regularly, I know my mental health suffers considerably. I’m lucky to have a publisher, but it took years of rejection emails to get to this point.
Massive thanks to Mairi for sharing her top tips with us. Check out her novel, Death by Appointment here:
Connect with Mairi here:
Death by Appointment Blurb:
A doctor retreats to the Scottish coast for a fresh start—but finds herself in harm’s way—in this compelling murder mystery.
Physician Cathy Moreland needs time to heal, having recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder while struggling with a painkiller habit. The little village of Kinnaven promises respite, but after Cathy attempts to get an opiate prescription, things don’t go well. When she discovers the body of the local Dr. Cosgrove, her sanctuary is shattered.
Before long, Cathy is swept up in local gossip about the death. Decades earlier, the cliff where Cosgrove died had been the site of another tragedy, leading some to suspicions about the doctor’s demise. But as Cathy determines to learn the truth, she will find herself in grave danger.
The Dr. Cathy Moreland Mysteries are written by a former practicing physician and praised for their “great characters” (Peter Boon, author of Who Killed Miss Finch?).